We’re working on several things at the moment on the Pathways project. Having completed over 100 in depth interviews, we are now well into the dedicated analysis period of the project – this is the phase in which we try to make sense of some of the patterns, themes and stories that are emerging from the interviews. Once we’ve done this analysis work, we’ll be sharing and testing out what we’ve found in workshops in the three areas in which the research is taking place (Enfield, Suffolk and Leeds). In these workshops we will be exploring what the findings mean in practice for participants, and how they might use the research in their work, for example in their approach to volunteer recruitment and retention. The project team have had conversations with our respective Local Stakeholder Groups to get their ideas and input into the design of these local workshops. We’ll be holding these workshops next February and will keep you updated on our progress between now and then.
Posts Tagged ‘local partners’
I attended an event at Enfield Voluntary Action on Wednesday 20th October about the Big Society, and what challenges and opportunities it presents for Enfield’s residents, communities and voluntary and community sector organisations. David Burrowes, the MP for Enfield Southgate and Parliamentary Private Secretary to Oliver Letwin in the Cabinet Office, gave an opening speech before dashing off (I imagine to the Comprehensive Spending Review). He emphasised that the lack of prescription for the Big Society was deliberate; that one size won’t fit all or every community. Recounting that he’d been told that the Big Society was akin to the saying ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’, he acknowledged that some of the ideas and proposals in the Big Society are a continuation of what has come before but that it is also about changing ‘the DNA of our culture’ and making people freer to get involved.
I facilitated one of the workshop groups that followed the speech through the task of identifying some of the opportunities and challenges that the Big Society presents for Enfield’s residents and organisations. The group thought that the Big Society agenda could encourage groups to collaborate, form partnerships and work together. The potential competition between local organisations for fewer resources and contracts, and with public sector workers who may have lost their jobs, was mentioned as a challenge. The different opportunities for participation that different people and areas have was another potential challenge, including the difficultly of engaging more transient groups such as the temporarily housed population of Enfield. I will look forward with interest to reading the full report of the day.
Jonathan Moore (JM) is the Chief Executive of the Suffolk Association of Voluntary Organisations and is involved with Pathways through Participation as the Chair of the Suffolk Local Stakeholder Group and a member of the Advisory Group. Sarah (SM) spoke with him about his views on how the project has been taking shape.
SM: What was it about the project that made you interested in being involved?
JM: One thing that drives me in my work in the voluntary sector is people getting up and doing something, changing their lives, trying to find solutions. Anything only changes if people actually take some ownership, participate in one form or another. So I’m very keen on finding ways of identifying what drives participation, what motivates people, and how one can get more of it.
SM: You’ve been involved in the Advisory Group. You’ve been involved in the Local Stakeholder Group. You’ve been quite instrumental in shaping the project. What are your reflections on these last 9-10 months?
JM: One thing that I really like seeing is the cross-organisational involvement of the Institute of Volunteering Research, Involve, and NCVO. I think that’s a good mark and that’s something I find attractive.
What I’ve experienced for the first time which I think is quite interesting is different methodologies of research. So there have been some reflections [within SAVO] on how we look at gathering information as an organisation and that’s been quite a key learning point.
I find the Advisory Group very stimulating. I’m not really a great researcher; I’m a bit more of a hands-on one, but I think it’s quite interesting to blend theory with practice and actually see what the practical applications of this learning are…One thing that I think is quite encouraging about this project is involves local councillors and part of the reflection is feeding back into other arenas. So I’m rather hopeful that some of the information that can be found in Suffolk can actually help shape some of the thinking within Suffolk.
SM: Why is it important to you that Suffolk is represented, or maybe more broadly that the rural experience is represented in this project?
JM: There are some really great similarities between areas that bear no relationship to one another, whether it’s an urban or metropolitan or rural area. But the other thing that comes across is that there are also some very distinct differences and something that comes across [in the research on Suffolk] is sparcity and access to opportunities to participate. Gaining the kind of critical mass that you need to actually be able to run an organisation is harder when you have a very dispersed client base or volunteer base. Therefore things like transport become critical parts of the success factor in a way that they aren’t in other areas. Those are things that need to be in the thinking when we’re developing policy or models of good practice.
SM: How might this project feed into SAVO’s work or to your work in local areas?
JM: In all the partnerships that we work with both within the voluntary sector, within the statutory sector, and in various others, there is a recognition that finding ways of involving and engaging people is a critical part of improving and creating quality services. And yet I think it’s a fairly clumsy way that people are doing it. The kind of approach you’re often seeing is a gathering of usual suspects so that new forms of empowerment are not happening. Or there’s almost extremes where you get those that are perhaps most vociferous or in conflict. So I’d be very interested in feeding up the [project] findings.
If we can understand what makes people participate and what encourages participation then what we can do is feed this into the culture of how not only voluntary but also statutory groups begin to try to communicate and work with the communities they’re there to serve. It’s quite vibrant in Suffolk. We’ve had a lot of discussions in Suffolk about local government review and community boards and there’s a lot of change going on in relation to that so this has a good opportunity to help inform and shape that agenda.
The research in Suffolk is developing well and lots has happened over the last months.
With the help of our local partners – the Suffolk Association of Voluntary Organisations, and its member organisation, the Suffolk Volunteering Federation – I’ve been able to talk to a huge variety of people and organisations. Contacts range from local voluntary organisations to statutory organisations that work in the wider region of West Suffolk and beyond, as well as individuals who live and work in Suffolk. I’ve been visiting the local Community Partnership organisation, Young Suffolk and a Volunteer Centre. I’ve also the good fortune to attend the West Suffolk Local Strategic Partnership Annual Conference. This enabled me to experience ‘participation’ first hand, and to get a feel for how consultation about the community strategy is conducted and what the key concerns are of the delegates from across West Suffolk.
Basic things like popping into the local newsagents have also been hugely informative. Not only did I discover that that there are two rival local papers, but also that the local newsagents carry papers in Polish, Turkish and Italian, indicating some of the minority languages spoken in the area. The local papers carry a lot of relevant information relating to a wide variety of participatory activities – from donating to charity, the organisation of charity walks, to updates on recent developments in the local volunteer centre and the tensions between local councillors and residents over planning issues.
Since Leeds was confirmed as the inner-city area for the project I have been meeting with various key stakeholders to introduce the project and find out a bit more about the participation scene in the city. Some of the people interested in the project and who I have met include various members of the local authority; the Primary Care Trust; a social enterprise; the chair of the VCFS strategy group; the volunteer development manager at Leeds Volunteer Centre; a key member of the local strategic partnership and a variety of volunteers and local activists.
Whilst exploring the wider area of Leeds, I have learned of some interesting participation sites and events. This included a former primary school that had recently been occupied by local residents who were campaigning for the building to be saved for community use, as well as various exciting events being organised for next year’s Leeds Year of Volunteering. With the help of Voluntary Action Leeds and other partnering organisations, we are now close to deciding on the smaller, case-study area within the city.
Just over a month into the field work has seen me walking about with a camera and notebook and meeting people in different parts of Enfield – a north London borough and our selected ‘suburban’ area. Paula Jeffery, the Chief Executive of Enfield Voluntary Action (EVA) and one of our key partners, has given me some valuable insight into the area through sharing her local knowledge – its history, its geography and some of its defining characteristics. So far I’ve met with people from all three sectors – voluntary (e.g. the Volunteer Centre), statutory (e.g. Police and Local Authority) and private (e.g. Chamber of Commerce).
Many of Enfield’s voluntary and community sector infrastructure organisations (e.g. Enfield Disability Action and the Volunteer Centre) are based in the same building called ‘Community House’ – a friendly place in the south east of the borough with a volunteer-ran café open to the public. A large number of north London’s business infrastructure organisations (e.g. Enfield Business and Retailers Association) are housed in the north east of the borough in the same building, called ‘Enfield Business Centre’. These infrastructure ‘hubs’ seem to really facilitate collaboration and communication – something that one of my interviewees commented on.
A helpful conversation with a head of service at the Local Authority, walking about making observations and visiting an exhibition at London’s Museum of Transport, are helping me narrow down my fieldwork area to an approximate 2 mile square patch based around three Underground stations. The combination of excellent transport links to the city centre and an abundance of 1930s semis should make this fertile ‘suburban’ ground for the research to take place in.
Our advisory group, which met for the third time on 8 December, has three new members. They are Paula Jeffery from Enfield Voluntary Action, Richard Jackson from Voluntary Action Leeds and Jonathan Moore from SAVO (Suffolk Association of Voluntary Organisations) who also chair the local stakeholder groups in our three case study areas.